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RYOKAN, GREAT FOOL or The Teachings of the Non-Dual

Nov. 6, 2010 - Posted in: Blog - 2 Comments

Ever since quitting the temple

My life has been resolutely carefree

My staff is always at my side

My robe is completely threadbare

At night in my hut, through the lonely window

I hear the falling rain

On spring days when the flowers riot in bloom

I’m playing ball out on the street

If anyone asks what I’m doing, I say:

“The most useless man there ever was.”


There’s no question but that our fascination with Ryokan is that he fully lives the teachings, no holds barred.

We’re familiar with the tenth stage of the Ox Herder Journey, where the ox herder enters the marketplace, chest bare, having nothing to protect.

With Ryokan, what we get is an up-close-and-personal account of what it’s like to be that open, on a day-to-day level.

He shows us how to be intimate with experience – to be human – first and foremost. And this includes suffering.

So here are a few questions we’ll be considering as we read his poetry and get to know him a little more:

*When he says he’s the most useless man there ever was, is this a put-down or a compliment?

*What makes his begging for his daily food, even at a time of war and famine, a Buddha activity?

*In what way is his aloneness a measure of his connectedness to all beings?

*In his suffering from loneliness, cold and hunger – his lovesickness – the same as an ordinary man’s or not?

*How do his words affect you as you take them in? What accounts for his growing appeal both East and West?


Join me at the Zendo this Weds (Nov 10) at 7:15pm as we explore the spiritual power of this extraordinary teacher who never once preached a sermon.

Summer Ango in the City

Jun. 13, 2010 - Posted in: Events - 17 Comments

Manhattanhenge Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

I’ve often wondered whether summer ango would have flourished to the same extent in the Buddha’s time if the monsoon rains didn’t exist. It was a perfect time, with not too many competing distractions, to sit. The sound of the rain rhythmically pelting down would have been an invitation, in itself, to ‘peaceful dwelling,’ or at least to keeping everyone together under one roof.  Of course, the folks at the Grail for summer ango don’t need monsoon rains – they have the container provided by Roshi, a round-the-clock schedule, and the commitment to being in residential practice.

So the question has come up as to what ango in the city should look like. (Thank you Neil Soten for keeping us on our toes!) How we can support each other, using all the ingredients of our life as we  juggle our various roles and schedules, to still experience ‘peaceful dwelling?’

Various contributions have been made to the conversation so far, thanks to Marie and MyoGetsu: increase the numbers of zazenkai; hold horizontal practice circles (no teacher) to discuss the ango study text; replace dharma talks (Thurs?) with study/discussion groups.

We’d like to hear from those of you who are going to be around for some or all of the ango period which goes from end of July 21 to August 22. What would be supportive of practice for you? What would you be willing to commit to? What are your thoughts on this topic? We can use this space to see how much of a groundswell of interest there is,  and if so, create our own monsoon rains. One caveat, your suggestion should be for something you could commit to for the period of ango and not just once or twice.

Members Meeting Wrap-Up

Apr. 18, 2010 - Posted in: Blog - 26 Comments


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Perspective is Everything

Apr. 1, 2010 - Posted in: Blog - 5 Comments

Photo by Sensei Joshin O'Hara

A week later and I’m still left with some very distinct impressions from our afternoon on the High Line Park,  Day One of Urban Sesshin.

Everything depends on perspective, Shuso said, a concept that achieved particular resonance on the High Line Park. There we were, suspended in mid-air,  with, on one side, a view of the Hudson River, on the other, the bowels of the Meat Market below, with its shiny new boutiques and upscale restaurants. The colorful rooftops and trendy hotels have replaced the abattoirs  and before that,  the  granaries of another era.

As we walked about, at this elevated height, I felt free of the person I normally take myself to be. Stripped of function, released from role, I felt deliciously open and fluid, as if invited to step outside the particular  play I was in, and for a moment, given a panoramic view of all the plays in progress, one superimposed upon another, or overlapping – all the plays that make up what we call the history of a given time.

What is more opening than having a couple of hours in which to do nothing but breathe in the sights and sounds of a city,  witness the confluence of elements that make it so vibrant, take stock of this particular moment. In Shuso parlance, to peel back the skin and reveal the  flocking cluster of cells beneath.

Without my typical purposeful, task-oriented self along for the ride, simply sensing the sun on my skin,  the cool of the shade, hearing the sounds of the city below,  seeing the mulch-covered plants peeking out  ready to bloom, I felt awash in the wonder of what it is to be a human being.  For a moment,  the habit of  anxiety dropping away.

I’d love to hear about others’ experiences of Urban Sesshin.

photo by paul romaine